Nicolino Vicompte Calyo

American, 1799 - 1884
Born in Naples, Nicolino Calyo was an accomplished American nineteenth-century view painter who brought the practice of his classical European training to vibrant portrayals of the American scene, like this view of New Orleans. He studied at the Naples Academy, where he learned Neoclassical, Italian, and Dutch landscape techniques and traditions. Calyo fled Italy in 1821, having participated in an unsuccessful rebellion against Ferdinand I (formerly IV), the Bourbon King of Naples. Over the next several years, he traveled, sketched, and painted in Europe.

Living in Malta from 1829 to 1832, Calyo taught drawing and then spent the following year in Granada, where his father held a position with the court of the Neapolitan-born Queen Christina. At the beginning of the Carlist War in 1833, Calyo left Spain for America, traveling first to the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, and then settling in Baltimore the following year. There, he held exhibitions of his large-scale European views before departing for Philadelphia and, ultimately, New York, which became his permanent home in 1835. Calyo arrived ready to produce views of the great fire of New York, on December 16 and 17, 1835, a pair of which were engraved as prints by William Bennett in 1836. Over the next several years, Calyo also created numerous characterizations of urban workers, vendors, and other street figures in the manner of Jacques Callot; a group of these were published in 1840 as the Cries of New York.

As an experienced landscape artist and traveler, Calyo made watercolor and gouache sketches on location, and these catalogued examples attest to his itinerancy on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Some of the studies became sources for larger scale landscapes on paper, as well as the panoramas that he exhibited in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and New Orleans.

Calyo traveled south to New Orleans in 1837 to exhibit his panorama of the New York fire, and returned in 1852 to display his diorama of the Mexican War (including wax figures). Precisely rendered, this broad view of New Orleans captures the dense architecture, churches, and other identifiable landmarks, making it a valuable topographical record of the city at mid-nineteenth century. Because Calyo was such a talented figure painter (unlike many self-taught landscape artists of his time), the staffage figures on the river banks in the foreground give his work exceptional quality and a lively human presence, like the top-hatted gentlemen-one of whom gestures toward the steam- and sailboats. Other figures work or relax. Calyo portrays the light, color and atmosphere of the view in his skilled use of watercolor and gouache.

Calyo continued to be active in scenic painting through the 1850s, along with two of his sons, John and Hannibal, and his son-in-law, Giuseppe Allegri. From known works, he appears to have done less painting during the succeeding decades before his death in 1884. Calyo remained cosmopolitan and international in perspective and politics during his entire lifetime. In his New York home, he hosted notable European exiles, including Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III) and the famed Italian soldier and patriot, Guiseppe Garibaldi. RS

Biography courtesy of The Charleston Renaissance Gallery,
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